How Twitter changed my life

In November 2011 my wife Kerry attended the Stonewall Leadership Programme. A truly life changing course that taught her a huge amount about role models and what it meant to be a gay leader in the workplace. One of the things she brought home was how important it was to her and the others on the course to be in a room with their peers. As a gay woman it’s something she doesn’t have in her day to day job. She has a peer group at work but not a peer group that she can see herself mirrored in or observe obvious role models. Essentially, they are all straight. It was immensely powerful for her to be in a room of people who all had a shared core.

This came at a time when I was at home with our daughter, socialising with a small group of friends, mostly with children. I was missing the daily socialising of like-minded people I had had through work and looking to find something other than mums talking about their children. I wanted more than development milestones and cute stories. I wanted books and education and culture and politics and news. I wanted to find my peer group, my community.

And so I used Twitter. I followed journalists from the Guardian that I no longer managed to buy and read, I looked up authors that I loved and people that I looked up to. I followed their conversations and found more of the same. Suddenly I knew what was happening in the world again. I was following the news. I knew what books were coming out, even if I didn’t manage to read many of them. I found Stella Duffy and Caitlin Moran who re-politicised me. Shelley Harris who was immensely generous with her advice and encouragement to writers and readers. Isabel Costello and Zoe Toft who did all the hard work looking through all the newly published books and presented me with gem after gem on their reviewing sites. I was reading again, I was writing again, I was drawing again. I was thinking and learning and engaging with the world again.

That was when we all found out that Amazon weren’t paying their taxes. I needed to find somewhere new to buy my books, somewhere more ethical and real. I looked up local independent bookshops on Zoe’s site and found Bags of Books. A lovely children’s bookshop in Lewes, not that far up the road. It just so happened that there was an author event with Clara Vulliamy coming up that we could take our daughter to. We did just that and we had a lovely morning listening to stories, chatting with Clara and making tiny mouse houses out of match boxes. Afterwards, what better way to say thank you to Clara than to look her up on twitter? I looked her up that same weekend and we haven’t stopped chatting.

And now I feel like I have really found my peer group, that community of like-minded people that I fit with and can see myself in. I have started Rhino Reads and The Rainbow Library. I have role models and have become a role model to others. I have found friends and inspiration. I have found support and advice. I have found my place. So thank you to Stonewall for showing us the importance of peer groups and role models. Thank you to my lovely friendly twitter community, particularly those mentioned above and the Rainbow Library crew of children’s book authors, illustrators and bloggers. And thank you to my wife for sharing her Stonewall learnings so enthusiastically and honestly.

Not exclusive but inclusive

In the last ten years the fight for gay equality has come a long way. In 2004 we won the right to enter into a civil partnership. In 2009 we won the right to have our names on the birth certificates of our children and the legal parental responsibility rights that come with it.

Now we are fighting for equality in marriage.

I don’t believe that we are fighting for ‘gay marriage’. It sounds too exclusive, as if we need a special kind of marriage for gay people, a bit more pink and sparkly.

We don’t want to be exclusive, we want to be included.

We already have legal rights and responsibilities when we enter in to a commitment with each other and we use the terminology of a marriage. We have that in the form of civil partnerships. And it works for us. I already refer to myself as married and to Kerry as my wife. Our civil partnership was our wedding and we are in a marriage. What we are fighting for now is equality. Inclusion. Why should we be legally excluded from civil marriage? We deserve the same legal rights as others and we are campaigning to get them.

The author Shelley Harris has summed it up beautifully in her blog.* “The inequality which currently exists will be seen as barbaric, in the same way in which we now view male-only voting or Apartheid as barbaric.” She sees it for what it is, inequality. We don’t want to change marriage, or break it, we just want the right to take part.

Those who are voicing their disagreement and disgust are claiming that marriage is, and should remain, a union between man and woman. I understand their belief that religious weddings should remain between man and woman. Fine, great, as you were. But why civil weddings? We are not asking for the right to marry in a church, or any other religious establishment. We are asking for the equal right to a civil marriage by the state. No religion, no special circumstances or agendas. Just two people who love each other enough to make a legally binding commitment to each other, being legally allowed to make that commitment.

So to the dissenters, I hand you over to the chief executive of Stonewall, Ben Summerskill, ‘Our strong advice to anyone who disagrees with same-sex marriage is not to get married to someone of the same sex.’**

* http://www.shelleyharris.co.uk
**http://t.co/IsszWBA5 this website explodes the main myths surrounding the equal marriage campaign and also has a link to the petition to support it.